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Saturday, November 26, 2016
Squadron Leader Robert Barson Cowper - DFC & Bar - Course 28
Photo: Veteran Bob Cowper at home with his great-grandchildren Lily and James, 13-year-old twins. (Matt Turner)
April 24, 2015 By Craig Cook - The Advertiser - Former Squadron Leader Bob Cowper, one of the nation’s most highly decorated war veterans, has seen more than most in his 92 years but nothing will match the Centenary of Anzac commemoration.
The World War II flying ace is the embodiment of all those who have served their country since the first Anzacs landed on the beaches of Gallipoli on April 25, 1915.
His “keep calm and carry on” attitude helped the Netley resident survive dozens of missions as a fighter pilot.
His 12 medals include the Distinguished Flying Cross (with bar) for gallantry, the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) and the French Legion of Honour, awarded last year in France on the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings commemorations on June 6, 1944.
But Mr Cowper knows better than anyone that the commemoration of the Anzacs is not about personal glory.
“It’s our chance to tell the real story of war and to know that all those we lost didn’t die in vain,” he said.
“But no matter how bad things were in war, the outcomes if we’d lost would have been far worse and we always felt confident what we did was necessary.”
Robert Barson Cowper joined the RAAF on his 18th birthday in June, 1940 and was assigned to 456 Squadron (RAAF Night Fighters), flying radar-equipped Mosquito night-fighter aircraft.
He lived with the firm assertion he would die well before war’s end, just as dozens of his mates had done. He walked through enemy lines in the Sahara Desert after crash landing and defied death on another occasion, ditching into the ocean.
On his return to Australia, to be with his great love Kay — who passed away last year after 70 years together — the airman’s disquiet that he survived while others led to a recurring nightmare.
“I used to wake up every few nights, bolt upright in bed desperately trying to get out of my aircraft,” he said.
“I did that for many years but I was so busy trying to raise my young family and do my job that you just had to get on with it.
“It was a different world and a different time and we had never heard of post-traumatic stress — we all had it but we had to manage it ourselves.”
Squadron Leader Bob Cowper, born June 24 1922, died June 21 2016 (The Telegraph) Squadron Leader Bob Cowper, who has died aged 93, is thought to have been the last surviving Australian fighter “ace” of the Second World War; flying night fighters, he was credited with destroying at least six enemy aircraft.
During the air operations to support the Allied landings in Normandy in June 1944, Cowper and his colleagues of No 456 Squadron RAAF, mounted standing patrols over the beachhead and in a few days accounted for 35 enemy aircraft. On the night of June 9/10 Cowper and his navigator, Flying Officer William Watson, were on patrol near Cherbourg when they attacked a Heinkel 177 bomber and damaged it so severely it was forced to crash land. Later in the sortie, they intercepted a Dornier Do 217 bomber and destroyed it near Beaumont.
A few days later Watson picked up a contact on his radar and homed their Mosquito on to a Junkers 88 bomber. He opened fire and hit the port engine, which soon caught fire, forcing the crew to bale out. The Cowper/Watson team achieved their fourth success on the night of July 4/5. They identified a Heinkel 177 attacking enemy shipping south of Selsey Bill and shot it down into the sea.
Later in July the squadron was tasked to attack incoming V-1 flying bombs launched from the Pas de Calais region and claimed the destruction of 24 of them. Cowper claimed one but it was later credited to an anti-aircraft battery. In February 1945 he was awarded a Bar to an earlier DFC and Watson was awarded the DFC.
Robert Barson Cowper was born on June 24 1922 at Broken Hill, NSW, before his family moved to South Australia. He attended Queen’s College in Adelaide before working as an engineering draughtsman. In 1940, on his 18th birthday, he joined the RAAF. He completed his training in Canada and arrived in Scotland in September 1941. He trained as a night fighter pilot and in November joined No 153 Squadron in Northern Ireland. The squadron was replacing its old Defiant aircraft with the powerful Beaufighter when he teamed up with Watson.
After almost a year flying patrols over the Irish Sea, Cowper and Watson were posted to the Middle East. They ferried a new Beaufighter to Gibraltar but on the onward flight to Malta became lost. Running out of fuel Cowper crash landed behind enemy lines in the desert at night. Arab nomads sheltered them until they were picked up by a British armoured patrol. Their adventures entitled them to join the “Late Arrival’s Club”.
They joined No 89 Squadron based in Malta and flew interdiction raids over northern Sicily and attacked trains with bombs. In March 1943, they transferred to No 108 Squadron and a month later had their first combat in the region. They were engaged in a long duel with a German night fighter off the west coast of Sicily. Cowper’s fire damaged the Messerschmitt 210 and it disappeared into cloud. The invasion of Sicily, Operation Husky, was mounted on the night of July 9/10 and two nights later the crew engaged a Junkers 88 that was attacking Allied shipping. Cowper opened fire and the enemy bomber exploded, showering the Beaufighter with debris.
The night fighter was badly damaged and the navigator (a stand in for Watson) baled out never to be seen again. Cowper had great difficulty leaving the stricken Beaufighter. He lost consciousness but came to as he fell and pulled the ripcord of his parachute landing in the sea moments later. With deep cuts, a broken nose and bruising he waited until dawn to fire his distress flare when he was spotted and picked up by a naval vessel. His experiences entitled him to join the Caterpillar Club and the Goldfish Club giving him the rare distinction of membership of the trio of survival clubs.
Despite his wounds he was flying again a few weeks later and he and Watson destroyed a Junkers 88 off Sicily. By mid-August his tour was over and he was awarded the DFC for his “great courage and determination”.
After a period as a night-fighter instructor, during which he met and married an Australian WAAF, he joined No 456 Squadron in March 1944 when Watson, who had also been on a rest tour, rejoined him.
In March 1945 the squadron re-equipped with a more powerful Mosquito and from an airfield in Essex provided support for bombing raids over southern German. By the end of the war, Cowper was the acting squadron commander of No 456, the only Australian night fighter squadron.
After the war, he and his young family returned to Australia where he worked for Dunlop before owning a service station. He later became a farmer and racehorse owner.
He worked tirelessly to achieve recognition of No 456 Squadron’s war record and was instrumental in having the squadron’s logo adopted as the official badge. In September 2008 this was laid in a slate tile in the floor of the RAF’s church of St Clement Danes in the Strand. In 2004 he was appointed to the Légion d’Honneur for services during the Liberation of France and in 2010 received the Medal of the Order of Australia. In 2007 he published his autobiography, Chasing Shadows.
Bob Cowper married Katherine McCall in December 1943; she died in 2014 and two of their four daughters survive him.